COVID vaccines are slashing severe cases of the disease by up to 94 per cent, findings suggest.
It’s the first set of data to come out of the jab programme in the UK, in which more than 17 million people have had a first dose of either the Oxford or Pfizer vaccine.
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Researchers examined coronavirus hospital admissions in Scotland among people who have had their first jab and compared them with those who had not yet received a dose of the vaccine.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland examined data on people who had received either the Oxford jab, made by AstraZeneca, or the Pfizer jab.
By the fourth week after receiving the initial dose, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was shown to reduce the risk of hospital admission from Covid-19 by up to 94 per cent.
The Pfizer jab reduced hospital risk by 85 per cent.
Pooled data on both vaccines shows even in the over-80s – the highest risk group for Covid deaths – the chances of needing a ward bed fell by 81 per cent.
It means the vaccines do not offer 100 per cent protection against severe Covid.
But they do have a significant impact – higher than experts ever imagined would be possible.
Lead researcher of the Scotland vaccine study Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said: “These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future.
“We now have national evidence – across an entire country – that vaccination provides protection against Covid-19 hospitalisations.”
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, who was not involved with the study, said: "This research provides encouraging early data on the impact of vaccination on reducing hospitalisations.”
The preliminary results have been posted online, meaning they have not yet been reviewed by other scientists before being published in a journal.
The research is the first to describe the effect of vaccination on a whole country, analysing the entire 5.4 million population of Scotland.
It looked at vaccine data up to February 15, when some 650,000 people had had the Pfizer jab, and 490,000 had had the Oxford-AstraZeneca one.
The study team says the findings are applicable to other countries that are using the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.
Dr Jim McMenamin, national Covid-19 incident director at Public Health Scotland, said: “These results are important as we move from expectation to firm evidence of benefit from vaccines.
“Across the Scottish population the results show a substantial effect on reducing the risk of admission to hospital from a single dose of vaccine.
“For anyone offered the vaccine I encourage them to get vaccinated.”
Chris Robertson, professor of public health epidemiology at the University of Strathclyde, said: “These early national results give a reason to be more optimistic about the control of the epidemic.”
One of the researchers Dr Josie Murray said that despite the promising data, “we must not be complacent”.
She added that it was important for everybody to get the second dose of the vaccine when offered, as this ensures the maximum level of protection.
Official data shows that as of February 21, more than 1.4 million people had received their first dose of a Covid vaccine.
This is the equivalent of 32.3 per cent of people aged 18 and over in Scotland.
The nation has raced ahead to reach 80 per cent of people aged between 65 and 69 years old already.
Dr McMenamin said the data supports the prioritisation list for jabs, set by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
He said: “I think what we are presenting here is an observation which we were already well describing across Scotland about this being an infection which predominantly has the highest clinical impact in the most vulnerable elderly people in our society.
"From what we can see here, that age stratification and the effect in those age groups is something which we can see a positive benefit from the vaccines that we’re using.
“That’s certainly consistent then with the categorisation… of incrementally approaching the people who are at maximal risk first.
“Nothing that we’re saying is a suggestion of any information that would be important for change."
It comes after a raft of data from Israel claiming the vaccine rollout there had led to a 39 per cent drop in hospitalisations in the elderly.
Israel began its vaccination programme December 19 with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
The findings were based on comparing thousands of vaccinated and unvaccinated people who were signed up with large healthcare providers, and not the whole country’s population.
The ability for vaccines to reduce hospitalisations and deaths will be crucial for the UK to ease lockdown restrictions in the coming months.
It’s one of the four aspects No10 will analyse continuously in order to move into each stage of lifting rules.
One in three adults in the UK have now received a dose of one of the vaccines.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday the Government is confident it has the supplies to meet the July 31 target and to vaccinate all adults.
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